McMaster researchers invent nasal spray to replace pills, lowering dosage and side effects

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Published January 15, 2021 at 2:52 pm

A research team at McMaster University has found a way to more effectively and efficiently deliver antipsychotic medication to patients.

Through a collaborative effort between neuroscientists and engineers at Mac, a nasal spray has been developed, allowing patients to deliver antipsychotic medication directly to the brain instead of having it pass through the body.

According to the researchers, those who suffer from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other conditions could see their doses of powerful antipsychotic medications cut by as much as three quarters.

The nasal spray could also spare patients from sometimes-debilitating side effects while significantly reducing the frequency of required treatment.

Ram Mishra, a professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences and co-director of McMaster’s School of Biomedical Engineering, and Todd Hoare, a Canada Research Chair and professor of chemical engineering, describe their research in a newly published article in the Journal of Controlled Release.

Co-authors Michael Majcher, Ali Babar, Andrew, Lofts and Fahed Abuhijleh say they have proven the concept of their new delivery mechanism in rats, using PAOPA, a drug commonly prescribed to treat schizophrenia.

Mishra explains that drugs must pass through the body before they reach the brain through the blood. So to be sure enough oral or injected medication reaches the brain, a patient must take much more than the brain will ultimately receive, leading to sometimes serious adverse side effects, including weight gain, diabetes, drug-induced movement disorders, and organ damage over the long term.

“The trick here is to administer the drug through the back door to the brain since the front door is sealed so tightly,” Mishra says. “This way we can bypass the blood-brain barrier. By delivering the drug directly to the target, we can avoid side effects below the brain.”

According to the researchers, the engineering team was able to bind the drug to corn starch nanoparticles that, when sprayed together with a natural polymer derived from crabs, could penetrate deep into the nasal cavity and form a thin gel in the mucus lining. The method slowly releasing a controlled dose of the drug, which remains effective for treating schizophrenia symptoms over three days.

“The cornstarch nanoparticles we were using for an industrial application were the perfect vehicle,” Hoare says. “They are naturally derived, they break down over time into simple sugars, and we need to do very little chemistry on them to make this technology work, so they are great candidates for biological uses like this.”

The gradual release means patients would only need to take their medication every few days instead of every day or, in some cases, every few hours.

The researchers are now seeking a corporate partner to propel the technology into the marketplace.

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